Petroglyph Beach is located on the north-west of Wrangell, a town in Alaska. The beach is so called for the large number of petroglyphs resembling eyes, totemic animals and geometric patterns that have been found carved into boulders and the bedrock on this site. These petroglyph are at least 8,000 years old, although their exact dates are uncertain.
The petroglyphs in Wrangell are found scattered near the shore just below the mean water line, revealing themselves during periods of low tide. Most of the petroglyphs can be found close to places of importance such as salmon streams and sites of habitation. Some 40 petroglyphs have been discovered till date, making Petroglyph Beach the site of the highest concentration of petroglyphs found in Southeast Alaska. Since 2000, the beach is a State Historic Park.
The fact that most petroglyphs are found on the beach in a narrow band at the mid-tide mark indicates that they were created when the sea level was lower. The ice melted in this region some twelve thousand years ago and sea levels began to rise. So, the earliest petroglyphs may be many thousands of years old, carved at a time of lower sea levels.
It is generally believed that the petroglyphs were created by the ancestors of the present day Tlingit tribe because of the similarity in the symbols and the artistic style used in the petroglyphs with those found in historic and current Tlingit totemic art. Many of these carvings depict whales, salmon, and faces of the community.
As the petroglyphs were mainly located near the mouths of salmon streams and could only be seen from the sea side, these petroglyphs could be a way to invoke the gods to send salmons for spawning every year which they hunted for food, or perhaps a thank-you to the gods for bountiful hunts. Another possibility is that the designs could serve as territorial markers for a good hunting area or ownership of fishing ground.
The rock here is metamorphic and tends to be a dark gray that is finely grained, moderately hard and durable, and easy to fracture, which would make it easier to carve. But that also makes the rocks prone to damage. Hence touching or walking on the rocks is prohibited. There is an accessible boardwalk to a deck overlooking Petroglyph Beach. On the deck replicas of several designs are displayed for visitors to make rubbings on.
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